I get asked all the time whether Missouri has “right to work” for its government employees. The answer is an unequivocal “no.” Missouri is not a right-to-work state. Not for the private sector. Not for government workers, either. This means that government workers, such as firefighters, teachers, and social workers, can be forced to pay for a union’s services. Even if they object.
Several union contracts allow the union to demand fees from employees as a condition of employment. There’s also case law that allows unions to force employees to pay agency fees. (See Schaffer v. Board of Education of the City of St. Louis.) Perhaps there’s an argument this case should be overturned, but for now it’s law.
So then why the confusion?
The issue came up in a recent hearing on a bill that would increase the transparency of government unions. In the hearing, Clark Brown, an executive with SEIU, seemed to imply there were no forced dues clauses in state contracts. The Kansas City Star also repeated the misconception in a recent article.
It is true that some unions do not have a forced payment clause in their contract. Workers covered by these contracts can choose whether or not to pay for union membership. The fact that many state employees are not currently forced to join a union may be the reason why many people believe Missouri government workers have “right to work.”
I can understand why many, including the Kansas City Star, would be confused by this. But SEIU should know better. It’s a little complicated, but in essence, at least two of their state contracts (here and here) include a type of forced-pay clause. Make no mistake: Although there is variation among different contracts, some Missouri public-sector workers can be forced to pay for union representation.